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Midhurst Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
St Anns Hill; Tan Hill

In the civil parish of Midhurst.
In the historic county of Sussex.
Modern Authority of West Sussex.
1974 county of West Sussex.
Medieval County of Sussex (Rape of Chichester).

OS Map Grid Reference: SU88882146
Latitude 50.98569° Longitude -0.73512°

Midhurst Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Historically nothing is known of the castle or fortified manor house on St. Ann's Hill but excavations in 1913 showed it consisted of a curtain wall 5 ft. thick, enclosing 5 1/2 acres and entered at the south west by an archway. Foundations of a hall, C12 chapel and other buildings, probably including the keep were revealed. On the west St. Ann's hill is cut off from the town by a dry ditch. There is no definite reason for claiming that the earthwork represented originally a motte and bailey castle, but the evidence does point to the site having been abandoned c. 1280 though the chapel was still in use in 1291 (Hope; VCH Vol. 4). The Bohuns had probably erected and inhabited a stronghold, the remains of which may be found on St Ann's Hill from whence they migrated to the low ground across the river in less troublesome times, and built Cowdray manor house (Ellis).
The castle is situated upon the end of a spur, overlooking steep slopes above the River Rother to the E and N and a tributary of it to the S. Westwards, the site is cut off by a weak ditch across the ridge. The buried foundations of the curtain wall and buildings have been reconstructed and raised to about 1.0m above ground level with mortared ragstone. The hill is a public open space and the site is under trees and rough pasture. (Field Investigators Comments–F1 ASP 19-MAR-70). Documentary sources of 1284-1311 refer to the demolition of a hall, two chambers, two chapels, a kitchen and a granary (VCH Vol. 4). (PastScape)

Norman castles which evolved beyond the use of timber for their defences often have a rigidly regular enclosed area on the motte - a shell keep - unlike the enclosure wall of the example on St Ann's Hill which has been tailored to fit the mound. This example, therefore, adds to the known diversity of shell-keeps in the South East. It holds considerable archaeological potential, especially in the areas of the dry ditch and the bailey, despite the disturbance caused by tree-roots and by former partial excavations. The importance of the castle is increased by its proximity to the manor house at Cowdray 300m to the north-east which superseded it.
The monument includes the earthworks and ruined walls of a castle dating from the 12th century. The central area of the castle is the artificial mound, or motte, an existing natural prominence which was heightened using rubble. On the motte was built a roughly oval enclosing wall up to 1.7m thick which defined an area 65m north-south by 50m east-west. Backing on to the wall were a number of chambers used for living quarters, kitchens and storage, as well as a small chapel dedicated to St Denis. The motte was defended on the south and east sides by steep slopes. On the north side a dry ditch was dug measuring over 10m wide which has now been largely infilled by eroded soil although it is still over 3m deep at the northern end. On the west side the defences were pierced by an arched entrance, probably the front part of an otherwise wooden gatehouse. To the north-west of the motte, and still within the defences, is a second raised area which is likely to have been the site of ancillary buildings such as stables and granaries. This bailey area measures 78m north- east/south-west by 15-25m north-west/south-east. The foundations of many of the stone walls of the castle were traced during partial excavations by Sir W.St John Hope in 1913. The walls were partly reconstructed so that they stand to ca.0.8m, the original stone having been taken for other Midhurst buildings after the site's abandonment in favour of the nearby Cowdray mansion in the Tudor period. The two sets of steps and all of the modern fences and walls are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included. (Scheduling Report)

The site almost certainly started as a timber castle but there is no evidence of a motte here and, indeed, only fairly slight earthworks were done to secure the hill top. Gatehouse suspects the site predated the Conquest. Presumably a wooden palisade was replace with the substantial stone wall at the same time as the other stone buildings were constructed. The document mention above probably uses the term camera which has been translated as chamber although, in practice, the term often seems to refer to residential towers.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:02

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